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Achieving ‘At-one-ment’

Storytelling and the Concept of the "Self</I> in Ian McEwan’s "The Child in Time, Black Dogs, Enduring Love</I>, and "Atonement</I>

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Claudia Schemberg

Ian McEwan’s novels are characterised by innovative forms of plot-oriented storytelling that combine a pronounced interest in contemporary (British) culture and (recent) history with a concern for social and ethical questions. Novels like The Child in Time, Black Dogs, Enduring Love, and Atonement draw the reader’s attention to the difficulty, complexity, and relativity of value commitments in a world where prescriptive master narratives and old essentialisms have been debunked. This book undertakes to incorporate the discussion of storytelling and the concept of the self into the discourse of values revived by ethical critics at the turn of the millennium. Bringing together findings from philosophy, psychology, literary and cultural studies, the study introduces a concept of the self that acknowledges our ineradicable need for structures of meaning and orientation while taking into account the plurality and heterogeneity of postmodern ways of life.

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2. SETTING THE SCENE: THE POSTMODERN CHALLENGE TO THE SELF 25

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2. Setting the Scene: The Postmodern Challenge to the Self 2.1 A Whole Supermarket of Theories: Exploring the Panorama of Ian McEwan's Novels The Tate 1970s and early 1980s marked "an important point of departure in [...] British fiction, the clear emergence of a new generation or grouping of writers and of new concerns in fiction."n° Dissatisfied with postmodernism as "a culture of pastiche, depthless intertextuality and hermeneutic break with the real",131 the "Brit Pack"13 of the 1980s and 1990s - including writers like Martin Amis, Graham Swift, Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ian McEwan - turned to innovative forms of plot-orientated storytelling that combined a pronounced interest in contemporary (British) culture and (recent) history with a concern for social and ethical questions. Like the narrator in Graham Swift's Waterland (1983), the rising generation of British novelists of the 1980s was keenly aware of the fact that man is "the animal that craves meaning" (W 140) and that storytelling, by throwing a net over the random nature of experience, caters to this yearning. However, our ineradicable need for patterns of meaning and orientation is countered in our post-metaphysical age by the unsettling awareness of the relative validity of value commitments, the constructedness of all frameworks of belief, and the heterogeneity of local narratives. Novels like Ian McEwan's The Child in Time, Black Dogs, Enduring Love, and Atonement draw the reader's attention to the difficulty, complexity, and relativity of value commitments in a world where prescriptive master narratives have...

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